Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 2: A new way of thinking about community gardens

Community gardening is changing. Young, creative, energetic people from all walks of life are taking the bull by the horns and bringing outside the square thinking to the whole idea of what a community garden is and whose it is.

In Australia, people have seen grants from all kinds of government, local, state and/or federal, as the way to get a community garden going and keep it funded. The recently elected Liberal Government  has closed this option and many at the Food 4 Thought conference are now without any funding.

Our Cygnet community garden does not work this way, although someone in its history did get a grant to build a green house and 2 rain water tanks for which we are very grateful. We rely on our own initiative, fund raising in small amounts such as selling to the local grocer when we have excess, having a pancake stall at the Folk Festival and selling plants at the Cygnet Market from time to time. We use water for some of the garden from an adjoining house for a small fee (water is cheap in Tasmania!). The local hardware shop gives us a 10% discount when we shop there, which we often do as it is just across the road. Although this is working well for us, we have not gone any further, unlike a small group in Darwin.

The Darwin Garden Education Network has evolved under the outstanding and creative leadership of Lachlan McKenzie and Emily Gray, both of whom look to be in their 20’s. In essence what they have done is simply link all interested parties. So, local businesses, chefs, schools, councils, health departments and commercial kitchens have been linked with community gardens, sharing events and facilities to promote one another.

For example, in order to teach people how to use a particular seasonal vegetable growing in the community garden, they invited a local chef to run an after school workshop for anyone interested. The chef promoted his restaurant, the community garden provided the vegetables and promoted their garden and the school made use of their facility and encouraged students and parents to join in.

At their annual fair, community gardeners from all over Darwin collaborated in running a pop-up cafe, with all food cooked beforehand by the gardeners, tables and chairs provided by a local business, straw bales by a garden supplier, all of whom could have their own stalls. The profits were shared by all participating community gardens. Schools were given the job of decorating a combined zone with anything they chose to promote their schools in exchange for each running a 1/2 hour workshop on something garden related. Businesses were encouraged to have a stall, the payment being simply a gift voucher which was then given as payment to anyone who ran a workshop, thus reducing the need for book keeping on the day.

On Friday afternoons, a local seedling nursery gives all its leftover punnets of seedlings to any group that shows up at the gate and also offers work experience to local schools. People talking and connecting really make things happen.

By being in touch with local health authorities and councils who are keen to promote such self-motivated and healthy events, compliance fees and rentals could be waived. And so the linkages have extended until now there are about a dozen community gardens, some in very close proximity to each other, where only a couple of years ago there was only one. Working together to achieve common aims is far easier than everyone re-inventing the wheel and competing for limited funding.

These are real community gardens, linking every level of the community with every other under the umbrella of encouraging local, organic, affordable, home grown food with associated education and workshops; using common land to connect people of all cultures, ages and abilities with nature, each other and their food, in a full circle.

Interestingly they don’t have a website!

I am REALLY excited to say that Emily was voted in as the new president of the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network, the body that gave us this fabulous Food 4 Thought conference. I can’t wait to see what she and Lachlan come up with!!

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1 comment:

Lost In Utensils said...

That is a great model of a real community garden. I have been apart of working with communities to get gardens going in Queensland and there have been many barriers in terms of funding etc... Cooking demos and eating events in the gardens themselves are always a great way of getting people to think about eating seasonally and growing food. Lovely story.